How to network and why it should be taken at more than face value

Peter Crush

Sunday 16 November 2014

Even when it comes to IT recruitment, it’s hard to overestimate the value of direct contact. While social networking services such as LinkedIn are becoming increasingly important, you still ignore the personal touch at your peril. Our expert analysis and advice.

Lou Adler, author of The Essential Guide to Getting Hired, has a simple rule he believes everybody should live by: When looking for work no one should spend more than 20 per cent of their time actually applying for it. The majority of people’s time, he says, should actually be spent networking.

He has a very good reason to advise this. Between 50 per cent to a staggering 80 per cent of all jobs are never advertised (according to professional careers group PayScale), while data from the likes of Right Management and others consistently find that around 40 per cent of recent hires find their job directly through networking alone.

By making themselves known to people, good networkers become go-to people; employers call them because they’re credible and are known entities. Such is the strength of the personal touch, that it’s no surprise more IT companies are putting greater emphasis on using employee referrals – suggestions of other people in their networks – as a means of hiring. Around 45 per cent of referrals stay longer than two years, while CareerXroads finds 46 per cent of all hires at top performing firms have come from people who know them.

But while the benefits of networking are obvious, it’s something many are still not good at mastering. “IT is a relatively small sector, and those who are successful in their careers have done so because they know a lot of other people,” says Adrian Carboni, managing director at IT recruitment consultancy RED. “But lots of people forget it’s a skill that does need practicing. We’ll actually hold specific networking events, just to bring people together, because the one thing about proper networking is that it involves taking time out to do it. People think networking can take place on LinkedIn. It can’t, it needs to be something that’s done face to face.”

According to Alder, people have to know why they’re networking, and identify who they need to network with. It’s not about trying to meet as many unknown people as possible. That’s bad networking. Good networking, he argues, is about meeting people you do know, who can introduce you to others, because they can vouch for your past performance and future potential.

“Inherent in networking is having to accept it’s a long-term game,” says Adam Gleaves, consultant at Morgan McKinley. “It’s understandable people will experience short-term apathy about going to yet another event, but this could be the one where you hit it off with a manager at a rival firm, and where they ask you for a business card.”

Effective networking is also about an exchange, where both parties come away happy they’ve met. “Networking tends to turn into overt selling events,” says Gleaves. “But at the same time, people should be asking ‘what can I offer this person too?’ – such as putting them in touch with someone they know, through you. That’s when a shared connection becomes being useful to people, and one they’ll remember as having been fruitful.”

Speaking to women business leaders at October’s Women’s Business Forum, Julia Hobsbawn, who has just presented a Radio 4 series on ‘Knowledge Networking’, says the skill of networking is about maximising time with impact: “There are 168 hours in a week; a third of which are asleep. It leaves us with just 110 hours to work and network,” she says. “The challenge is whether people can carve out half a day a week. Around 150 relationships is about the maximum number a person can maintain on a face-to-face basis, so the most important thing to realise is that the size of a person’s network really isn’t everything. Good networking is managing, and curating small groups of people you see regularly.”

Her advice to people is that they should try to have face-to-face contact with at least five connections per week, but to expand their own horizons too: “Networking is about using a knowledge dashboard. Sometimes it’s not who you know, but also what you know. For instance, how much current affairs and news and views are you taking on? Can you make confident conversation on issues outside your immediate expertise? If not, why not?”

As Linda Gratton, author of The Future of Work says, those with good networks will be the ones who prosper: “Networks get people better at what they do, because that’s where ideas and friendships are exchanged.”

TOP NETWORKING TIPS
(Adam Gleaves, Morgan McKinley)

– Have a standard opener to help the conversation flow

– Make eye contact with people and remember to smile

– Give other people time to share their own experiences/views

– Don’t let time pressures or nerves hold you back

– Throw yourself into the experience to see where it takes you